'Bates Motel' Boss: Norman Has Gone Full 'Psycho'

"This is a jacked up season," teases co-showrunner Kerry Ehrin.
 Courtesy of Bettina Strauss/A&E

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the season four premiere of A&E's Bates Motel.]

It’s official: After three seasons of falling deeper into his own brain, Norman Bates has gone Psycho. A&E’s Bates Motel returned Monday with a bloody season four premiere in which Norman’s (Freddie Highmore) erratic behavior finally caught the notice of authorities and he was locked into a public institution for observation. Not even Norma (Vera Farmiga) was able to use her charms to save her son from the torturous place, making it clear that she can no longer protect her son as she had hoped.

Meanwhile, Emma (Olivia Cooke) finally received a much needed lung transplant, with Dylan (Max Thieriot), her father and her long-lost mother by her side. Unfortunately the reunion between mother and daughter may never happen thanks to Norman’s disillusioned descent by the closing moments of the episode.

To preview the rest of the fourth season and find out what this mental institution twist means for the series going forward, THR caught up with co-showrunner Kerry Ehrin.

Is it safe to say that Norman is in full Psycho descent in season four?

Yeah, he’s pretty fully Psycho. There’s always room to grow, but this is a whole new Bates Motel in terms of his digression.

Where does that leave the Norma/Norman relationship?

That’s a big part of the storytelling. Norma becomes more aware of what’s going on with Norman. It’s really a question of, as a parent do you put your own well-being first or does that get superseded by that mother instinct to protect your kid. And that’s very much a part of the storytelling this season.

The first two episodes are pretty intense – does that pace continue throughout?

The pace is jacked up because Norman is more unhinged, but there’s also variation in tempo throughout the season. There will be parts that are more thoughtful and character-driven, but there is still going to be heart and humor in it; it’s not going to be nonstop suspense and terror. But this is a jacked up season.

Norma proposed marriage to Romero, who politely declined. What was it like crafting that?

Well what else would you expect from Norma? Here’s a woman who is afraid probably on a deep level, to actually trust this guy that she really has feelings for. So she just presents it on a very practical level because she doesn’t want to get to any of the vulnerable part of whether he actually likes her and vice versa. It’s almost put on a very practical level where she can kind of stay emotionally safe. Obviously all that other stuff is playing under that so it’s pretty loaded.

Norma seems to be failing at using her sexuality to much success this season; is that a part of her own personal breakdown?

Norma deploying her sexuality has always been in her arsenal; she’s fallen back on it from time to time. In a way it’s more about her charm than specifically her sexuality even though they’re wrapped up together. She’s desperate and terrified—she’s made a lot of bad moves, a lot of bad decisions, and it’s gotten to a point where her son is now in a county psych ward and she can’t even have access to him. She would do anything, as any mother would.

Do you see her as a “Christian scientist” or a mother in denial?

The difference is a Christian scientist would view it as a philosophical choice. And her decisions weren’t made in an analytical part of her brain they were made in her gut and fear and damaged psychology of being left alone. Norman was the only one always, always there for her. There’s a part of her that’s scared if she’s separated from Norman she will literally die—she will cease to exist. And that’s always been a part of the co-dependence of that relationship.

How do Norman’s increased visions open up the storytelling?

The beauty of Norman’s brain is that it opens up everything, which is great for storytelling. One of the things we love about the show is the fact that there are no reliable narrators. Everything is about perception, memory, motivations and how they want to remember it. It all plays into what the actual truth was. Norman’s derailment opens up the history of his entire life and existence, and part of the ride this year is going into places with him that have sort of formed him.

Could he get better before he gets worse?

We certainly hope so. As writers you have to approach the storytelling with hope. It wouldn’t be the same show if we creating it did not fully hope and want them to get help. And we do, and we hope that he will.

How much time will be spent delving into the mental institution side of things?

That’s a fun new world and part of Norman’s journey to try and unravel what’s happening inside of him. He is befriended by a fellow patient who he becomes close with and who has an affect on Norman. It’s a fascinating journey of his actual psychology of Norman and trying to get underneath that. Damon Gupton is a wonderful actor who is portraying Dr. Edwards: a psychoanalyst that works with Norman. There are some beautifully compelling, dramatic scenes coming up.

Emma and Dylan have a separate journey, what can you preview?

Getting a lung transplant is a pretty singular journey. It definitely takes precedence for her story. Dylan is very connected to her and part of what he’s dealing with early on is how do I deal with this. They flamed up pretty fast and the next thing is she’s getting a lung transplant … so in the light of day after all that, are they actually together? She’s like a whole new person and what does that mean for him? He’s spending a lot of time with her and it’s a different environment for him. As one dysfunctional person becomes welcomed into a more functional family that can alter how they perceive their own family. Dylan will be dealing with a lot of that.

What does this season’s body count look like?

I don’t think of it that way so it’s really hard for me to answer that … all I can tell you is that the velocity is raised. But it isn’t specifically attached to body count.

Is it easier for Norman to kill now?

No, it’s never ever easy for him to kill. It always comes out of the same place which is fear for his survival. That’s not going to change. What you think of of serial killers who don’t have empathy, he’s not that guy. This is a completely different set of circumstances and it’s always hard for him to kill people.

Are you planning to pay more homage to Psycho?

There are actually a couple of good ones coming up this season, we just like to integrate them when they kind of organically happen in a story as opposed to writing the story to the homage. We don’t ever want the cart to leave the horse but there are some good ones this year. I think fans of the movie will enjoy that. Saying more would totally spoil it. When you think of Psycho the images are not subtle — there’s no way to tease it out.

By the end of the season, how much closer will Norman be to the Norman Bates from that film?

I don’t think we’re far off. Who is Norman from Psycho, if you had to describe him? He’s a nice, polite young man who runs a hotel and sometimes his mother kills people. So I think we’re there.

Bates Motel airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on A&E. Thoughts? Sound off in the comments below.

Twitter: @amber_dowling

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